History was made on Sunday, June 11, when Alex Newell won the award for best featured actor in a musical at the 76th Tony Awards. Alex Newell, who goes by the pronouns he/she/they, received the award for Broadway’s original musical Shucked. The actor’s nomination was accepted in the featured actor category alongside Kevin Cahoon, Justin Cooley (Kimberly Akimbo), Kevin Del Aguila (Some Like It Hot) and Jordan Donica (Camelot).
This victory could be a game changer for nonbinary theater practitioners. It will give them a lot of courage. Courage that is needed to thrive, fight, and win, in a world rigidly bound around binaries.
In an interview Newell said that their choice of category – best performance by a featured actor in a musical – establishes their identity as an actor. “When I say I’m an actor, I mean that is my profession, the craft that I studied, the craft that I’m doing,” they said. “Everyone who does acting is an actor. That is genderless.”
Newell went on to say, “I appreciate that the categories are separate to give cis women, and women in general, an actual fighting chance to win awards in such a male-dominated field.” The 30 year old actor explained that if separate categories could be created to make lanes for women, it should not be so hard to create more categories to accommodate people who are not bound by binary genders.
In another interview with Time, Newell expressed the pride they take in triggering a movement in the industry, a movement that is required to create accommodation for all. She said, “I created a lane for somebody after me to come and do exceptional [work]. I have created space and created conversation and made the ruckus that needs to create active change.”
Newell has been stressing on the importance of the profession – actor – being genderless. After winning the award on Sunday, she said, “I should not be up here; as a queer, nonbinary, fat, Black little baby from Massachusetts.” An actor won an award at New York City’s United Palace Theater for an exceptional musical performance, and that is all.